Teleworking Impacts on Health

LAST UPDATED: December 14, 2021

Author:​ V. Hauschild

In March 2020, at the direction of the White House, the Department of Defense implemented procedures to mitigate the risks brought forth by the looming COVID-19 pandemic. This included a “maximum telework" posture for almost 1.4 million active-duty service members and 800,000 DOD civilian workers.

Many teleworkers are reporting positive effects from the added flexibility, including more free time and reduced commuting. But science shows there are also some down sides.  ​​

While most existing studies are of teleworkers outside of the federal government, the job duties of DOD employees in a telework-from-home setting have reported similar, if not exactly the same, health issues as their non-DOD counterparts," says Scott Monks, a physician assistant with the Army Public Health Center Occupational and Environmental Medicine Branch.  

“Existing evidence shows that musculoskeletal pain is one of the most common complaints of desk workers," says Monks. The lower back and neck, followed by the shoulders, wrists and elbows are where most workers have complaints of pain.

“The best way to avoid musculoskeletal pain while teleworking is to dedicate time for regular activity breaks," says Monks.

This supports the well-established evidence-based recommendation of the Department of Health and Human Services for healthy adults to participate in 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate physical activity, or alternatively 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity. Additionally, adults should aim for two or three sessions of strength training each week.

Even when these goals are met with dedicated exercise sessions, there are still health concerns if you spend the rest of your waking hours sitting at a computer or channel surfing on the couch.

If teleworkers feel soreness or discomfort from working extended periods, Monks recommends they consider the ergonomics of their work space and work habits at home.  An assessment of the ergonomics at one's home work station may be needed. Many DOD employees can enlist the help of a certified ergonomist located at their installation medical treatment facility or safety office to assist in assessing and suggesting corrective equipment and/or adjustments for their home work station.

Monks suggests one simple thing everyone can do is take movement breaks during their work day every hour or two. Set a timer as a reminder if needed – and stand up, stretch, take a lap around the house or around the yard, or do push-ups.

“The combination of a more ergonomically-correct work setting, increased physical activity through dedicated exercise sessions, and several short movement breaks or stretch breaks each day will likely reduce your risk of MSK pain," says Monks.

The Army Public Health Center provides several resources for more information about:

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